I met with an alumnus of my high school recent. Dun Xiao is a co-founder of 17zuoye.com (the name of the company in Chinese means “homework together”. ) , which is a promising online education start-up. Their website provides an online study platform targeted at Chinese K-12 education sector. On this platform, students, parents and teachers can collaborate with each other and do the homework together.
The company attracts tremendous attention recently: they just completed a US$20 million Series C round financing from Tiger Management, H Capital and Shunwei Capital. And the valuation of the company went as high as US$100 million early this year.
To understand the value of 17zuoye, we should have a big picture of the Chinese K-12 education sector first. There are around 200 million K-12 students in China, and a lot of them are single child of the family. Furthermore, Chinese parents are willing to invest heavily in children’s education to help them “race to the top”. Thus, if anyone can greatly improve their children’s academic achievement, they would love to try its service no matter it is free or not. That means the K-12 education market of China is huge. The emerging online-education start-ups undoubtedly target it. And 17zuoye is one of them.
Many online-education start-ups came up with solutions that try to use their platform/software to replace traditional teachers. However, 17zuoye is the only one who focuses on building a collaborative platform for all the participants of the K-12 education, students, parents and teachers. It finds a shared pain point for all the three participants, the homework. In China, homework plays a significant role in the process of study. Nearly every teacher would arrange some homework for their students after the class. But a teacher may have around 100 students. Correcting the homework is always a burden for the teachers. And it is impossible for them to give every student specific feedback on homework which is important for the students to improve. The parents want to check the homework for their children, but either they are too busy, or they find the homework too hard for them. For the students, most of them are single child. They need to finish their homework at home alone. When they meet some problems, they have no one to discuss with. Many Chinese students think doing homework is boring. 17zuoye is trying to fix all the problems above brought by homework. On its platform, teachers can upload the homework for students. And when students go back home, they can log into the website to do the homework. Since every student is doing homework online, they can discuss with each other there, or they can even compete. What’s more, 17zuoye also adjusts homework towards “gamification” to make homework fun. Once students submit the homework, the platform will correct it and export homework reports immediately which greatly free the teachers from the homework correcting burden. Based on the reports, the students can do more related practice, the teachers could know students’ understanding of the knowledge, and parents would easily track their students’ study. Surprisingly, the platform is free (at least for now). So far, the for-profit model of 17zuoye is unclear. But if it can keep accumulating users, profit is coming sooner or later.
Now, 17zuoye registered 7 million student users, 146K teacher users and cooperates with nearly 30K schools countrywide. Its ambitious goal is to serve for all the 200 million K-12 students, and become the largest online education platform in China.
One of their “big ideas” is to challenge the traditional method of examinations. They believe that it is more accurate to evaluate students’ knowledge and skills by their performance in doing homework rather than in one-time examination (so far, the scores for Gaokao, College Entrance Examination, is the only factor that influences college admission results). According to Dun, they are collecting massive data while thousands of students are using their website. It reminds me the “privacy issue”. I asked him what is his opinion on this issue? Dun just said that Chinese parents just don’t have the awareness of privacy of their children and the parents just welcome everything that helps their child to achieve better scores. “And when they start to pay attention to privacy,” Dun answered, “our company should already have found a perfect plan for privacy protection.”